The authenticity of Fiona Barton’s debut novel The Widow (Bantam Press, £12.99) stems from her background as a Fleet Street journalist. This psychological thriller tells the story of the widow of a man thought to have committed an awful crime – as well as the detective and the hack looking into it.
What does fiction allow you to do with the subject material that journalism wouldn’t?
Tempted to say “make things up” but I can imagine the general sucking in of breath. So, for the record, fiction gives me the freedom to decide what people think and say rather than being the reporter, recording people’s thoughts and words. I can invent motives and twists, inner voices, events and feelings but everything I write is fed by my experiences as a reporter. I have the best imaginable cast of characters to draw on, having spent more than 30 years watching and listening to people caught up in dramas, tragedies and conflicts.
Who are your influences in fiction?
Authors who take risks to tell stories in new ways. Kate Atkinson and Hilary Mantel are inspirational. Mantel for the brilliance and vividness of her story-telling. She broke so many rules – and was criticised by some – but I was in her world from page one; Atkinson for her characters and showing me the power of a story told by many; and John Irving for his sheer bonkers otherness.
Post hacking, how has journalism changed?
For most journalists – it should be emphasised that the majority were not involved in it – very little in the way they work. There is still strong, brave journalism that tells stories without fear or favour, and we should celebrate that. There have been seismic changes in the industry but they have come from how we deliver and consume news. Some say everyone is a journalist now. I disagree. Everyone can have a public voice now – and millions are grabbing that opportunity, posting information and opinions. But a professional journalist gathers information, researches, checks, analyses and crafts a story that allows the audience to see the full picture and form their own opinions. Well, that’s the theory…
The book joins some other praised psychological thrillers recently published. Were you not tempted to put “Girl” in the title?
Damn, wish I’d thought of that. Is it too late to change? I’m a big fan of Gone Girl and Girl On A Train and the idea of women driving the action in psychological thrillers rather than simply being the corpse in the ditch. There also seems to be a real appetite for books that feature interior voices and explore that disturbing disconnect between what people are saying and what they are really thinking.
Do you have plans for a second novel?
Yes, I’m working hard on Book 2 – and still not using “Girl” in the title #beginningtoweaken. It is a second psychological thriller with my reporter, Kate Waters, at the heart of the action.